Crandell’s Crime: A Most Unfortunate Marriage

TroyNorthernBudget_12-25-1887_Crandall_Murder_headlinesOn the morning of December 19, 1887, the wealthy Crandell-Stone family was eating breakfast at their home just outside Ballston Spa when a dispute erupted. Sylvester S. Crandell, a real estate broker from Troy, was angry with his wife and his mother-in-law, both of whom he lived with, for refusing to give him money. He believed, as a man in the 19th century would, that it was he who should rightfully be controlling the household funds. It was not the first time that angry words had ricocheted about the house on the West High Street, but it would be the last. By noon, three of those seated would be dead.

This story begins with the 1883 marriage of Sylvester to Lydia V. Stone. Lydia was the 37 year old daughter of paper collar manufacturer Samuel S. Stone and heir to his fortune, today worth about $1,625,000. This fortune was controlled by Lydia’s mother Emma, who appears to have been a fiscally astute and strong-willed woman. At the time of the Crandell-Stone marriage in 1883, Lydia was recently divorced from her first husband, Cassius E. Bulkey, with whom she had a daughter Julie. She had married Cassius, a clerk at W.M. Whitney and Co. in Albany (45-49 North Pearl Street) in 1870. At her urging and expense he had attended law school, probably Albany Law.


By 1882, degree in hand, Cassius had partnered with a loan and real estate broker and began working out of offices in the Mutual Bank Building on State Street in downtown Troy. At the same time, his family moved into an elegant and stately three-story home on Pawling Avenue across from The Troy Female Seminary, now known as The Emma Willard School. (The Adams Mansion, as it is now widely known, is presently owned by local developer Davide Bryce.) Cassius lived there with his wife and a Ms. Ellis, Lydia’s aunt. The loan and real estate firm that Cassius joined was of course that of Sylvester Crandell.

Sylvester came to Troy from Salem New York in 1870 with his wife (née Sherman) who was from an old and wealthy family of New Bedford, Massachusetts. In Salem they had lived that may have been outside their means. 

In Salem Crandell lived in style, boarding much of the time at the leading hotel, though he had little ostensible business and where the money came from with which he paid his bills and more than kept up his end in convivial circles was a mystery.

Troy Northern Budget, Dec. 25, 1887 “Crandell’s Crime”

In Troy, Sylvester first worked as a deputy tax collector, but was laid off within a few years due to a force reduction. It was at that time that he began his real estate and loan business. In an article appearing in the Troy Daily Times, his former colleagues indicated that he was a savvy and knowledgeable broker, who seemed to do well for himself. City directories, however, indicate that he may have been living beyond his means. In 1870 Sylvester is listed as boarding at 99 Fifth, the next year he has moved to 59 Fourth Street, and in 1873 we find him at the Phoenix Hotel in Lansingburgh. In fact, nearly every year between 1870 and 1883, we find him living at a different address. While this could have been the result of a combative temperament, it is more likely he had a difficult time paying rent. And it is unlikely that Lydia was aware of these money troubles. Indeed, during brief courtship of her in 1882, he claimed to have assets worth $40,000.

We know that Cassius had joined Sylvester’s firm by 1882 for that year, the firm of Crandell & Bulkley purchased an oversized entry in the city directory, as well as an advertisement. While the newly formed partnership was confident in their future business prospects, the partnership would not last.


For Cassius, joining the firm of Sylvester was the beginning of much misfortune. Around 1883, Lydia traveled west to what was then the Dakota territory, and promptly sued Cassius for divorce, according to Troy Daily Times. It was granted on the grounds of incompatibility and lack of support.

Only three months after the divorce papers being signed, Sylvester took Lydia’s hand in marriage. This was improper, to say the least, and it did not go unacknowledged in the papers. When the couple went to a Reverend Dr. Irvin to have their union sanctified, he refused, though as with any account appearing the day of an incident. And before the end of 1883, Sylvester had moved into the Cassius’ home on Pawling Avenue, was sleeping in Cassius’ bed, and with Cassius’ wife. He had annexed his (now former) partner’s life. One can imagine how Cassius would have taken this turn of events, but at this point he disappears from the narrative.

By all accounts the marriage soon soured. Sylvester began to pressure Lydia into talking to her mother about her inheritance. He wanted her to take possession of the two-thirds of her father’s property, which was her legal right. She preferred to leave it in her mother’s control. Legally, any wealth that came to Lydia would be owned by her husband, and while there may have been love between the two newlyweds, all evidence suggests Sylvester had chosen to wed the Stone fortune. Lydia was the means to that end, but she was either too cautious or experienced to leave herself to give up that control. This was savvy decision-making; Sylvester had long led a lifestyle beyond his means, and no marriage would change his habits. 

He soon came to Lydia asking for cash. It could have been that business was poor, or that he had obligations or debts to pay, such as the care of his mother who lived in a “poor house” across the border in New Bedford, but that is unlikely. The Northern Budget reporter noted that he “has paid no attention to repeated letters from the poor authorities of that place asking him to contribute to [his mother’s] comfort in her declining years.” And if we are to believe an early account in the Troy Daily Times, he preferred to use his checks to to host social gatherings, such as the theatrical company he invited to the family home in Troy, and presented each member with a bottle of wine before they departed

Undoubtedly, if he had had access to the Stone’s fortune, he would have driven them to poverty. When it became apparent to Sylvester that he would not be able to wrest the Stone fortune from the family’s hands, he grew resentful, but to find out what came of this, you’ll have to wait for the next installment.


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history, architecture, etymology

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